Gambling stalemate over slots?

About a dozen pari-mutuel lobbyists were huddled inside Rep. Jose Felix Diaz’s suite late this afternoon, as the clock winds down on the legislative session without a gambling deal in hand.

The biggest issue dividing the two chambers?

That’s an easy bet — slots.

The Senate wants to allow the lucrative machines in eight counties — Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington — where voters have approved the one-armed bandits for local tracks or frontons.

The House, meanwhile, continues to balk at what they view as an expansion of gambling, and left the referendum counties out of its plan. Diaz, R-Miami, didn’t include the expansion of slots in an offer he made to the Senate Wednesday.

The Senate’s chief negotiator on the gambling deal, Bill Galvano, late Friday called the issue of the referendum counties “the elephant in the room,” implying that the House has to move on slots or there’s no deal.

The Florida Supreme Court last year heard arguments in a case focused on whether facilities in the counties can add the machines without the express permission of the Legislature. But Thursday after Thursday, when the court opinions are released, has gone by without the highly anticipated decision.

Galvano said late Friday evening he’s waiting for a “substantial” offer from his counterpart.

“They understand that that’s an important issue for us, here in the Senate,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said.

Galvano said all of the counties need to be included in the plan because “that’s when you’re going to run into problems, if you cherry-pick, constitutionally.”

Galvano, who takes over as Senate president after next year’s November elections and who was instrumental in crafting a gambling deal with the Seminoles in 2010, acknowledged that the House has a more conservative approach toward gambling than the Senate.

“They want to make sure, as we’re resolving these court issues, that we’re retracting at the same time. So I’m open to how they want to make their offer, and if they have a more aggressive way of buying back permits, that’s great. We’ll consider it,” he said. “At the same time, (the issue of the referendum counties) that’s the elephant in the room. So we either need to know that that’s a non-starter for them or we can have a negotiation over that.”

Posted by Dara Kam